These are the basic proportions for making polenta, which can change character according to the kind of cornmeal used and the ratio of cornmeal to water. Polenta should be stirred almost continuously, though you can be somewhat more relaxed about it if you use a nonstick saucepan. As polenta starts to thicken, it tends to splatterso wear an oven mittbut once it is quite thick, it is less likely to jump out of the pan.
- In medium nonstick saucepan, bring 4 1/2 cups cold water and salt to a boil over medium heat. Gradually add cornmeal, stirring almost continuously with a wire whisk. When mixture starts to thicken, stir in oil with a wooden spoon.
- Reduce heat to low. Continue to stir until polenta is quite thick and creamy, taking care to scrape entire bottom and sides of pan, about 30 minutes.
- Soft version: Serve at once, use in recipes as directed, or hold over a pan of simmering water for up to 1 hour.
- Firm version: Immediately scrape warm mixture into lightly oiled 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.